Do you train a musical instrument?
That probably read a bit strange (and sounds even more so out loud), but the use of language there was deliberate. Usually we say that we play a musical instrument as opposed to train in one. And I think the distinction is important – we say play rather than train because it means we’re doing it for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.
I think the same distinction can be applied to the physical yoga practice: do you train yoga, or do you play yoga?
I’d say I do both. But that sense of play has to be there, otherwise I’d very quickly fall out of love with it if I wasn’t also enjoying it. I take my practice seriously (as well as classes I facilitate), but I still maintain a sense of play and enjoyment in the movements I’m making with my body, as opposed to seeing the physical practice as a chore – it’s something I’m doing with my body rather than against it. I used to lose sight of this and would end up pushing my body to places it didn’t want to be. Now I try to be more mindful and just move into a space where I can work but still enjoy an asana, rather than powering through it as if trying to achieve it.
Music isn’t just about the notes you play, but also ‘the space between the notes’, as French composer Claude Debussy said. If it were then music would just be all of the notes played consecutively as quickly as possible, or even all at once, both of which would sound a little weird (and probably also a bit rubbish). I think the same can be said about the physical yoga practice: it’s not just about the poses, but equally the time in between each pose – the transitions into and out of asana.
I see it a lot as a teacher – practitioners rushing to get from one pose to the next rather than considering the movement, as if trying to get to the end. If that were the point then one may as well just go straight to savasana; but we don’t! (tempting though it might be sometimes). In the same way music isn’t about getting to the end of the piece (if it were we’d just only ever want to hear the last note/chord), the asana practice isn’t just about reaching the savasana/seated meditation – it’s about enjoying the journey through all the notes leading you there. Do you rush to play each note, or do you enjoy the time within each pose as well as savour and appreciate the space between them?
And what is the space between each pose? For me it’s the breath – it’s what guides each movement. Not only is focus on breath a fantastic meditative tool, it also tells me if I’m rushing my transitions, or if I’ve taken a pose to a space I’m not ready for. If I can keep a steady breath, married with mindful movement, then I can enjoy the sweet music my body plays, whatever that may sound like (we all vibrate at our own unique frequency), then can sit back and listen to the reverberations in savasana/meditation.